Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
The Scherman Hoffman Blog

Category: S.A.V.E. Brand

Information and stories about our S.A.V.E. initiatives and products

Snow Birds, Large and Small

By Margo D. Beller

By the time you read this, the first major snowfall of the 2013 winter season will have blanketed New Jersey, and it isn’t even officially winter yet.

When I was a kid, there was a popular song sung to the melody of a John Phillip Sousa march that went:

Be kind to your webfooted friends/ for a duck might be somebody’s mother.

cardinal pairThere are no ducks on my property but I have plenty of other feathered friends that have become mothers and fathers. So I’ve been busy feeding the cardinals, titmice, black-capped chickadees, house finches, juncos, white-throated sparrows, house sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, several varieties of woodpeckers and occasional Carolina wren.

In the days before this snowstorm, when severe cold gripped the region and my husband (MH) was glued to the Weather Channel for the storm’s track, the birds were in a feeding frenzy. I was agitated, too. After starting the season with one feeder filled with sunflower seed, I’ve bumped that number to three with seed plus a suet feeder. Somehow it still doesn’t seem like enough. The closer we got to the storm, the more birds came. I’ve been making a lot of trips outside to refill feeders. It is a small price to pay.

I know people with many more feeders than I have, but even one feeder will help the bird population at times like these when the temperature plummets and the snows come deep.

The key, of course, is to keep that feeder filled. An empty feeder becomes just another lawn ornament.

One of my first posts for this blog was on the importance of keeping feeders filled. I noted that “you’d be surprised how many people put out a feeder and then don’t bother to refill it when it is empty.” That hasn’t changed in two years. I always know when my next-door neighbor’s feeder is empty by how many more birds suddenly appear at my feeders.

feedersThere are many feeders at Scherman Hoffman and people are good about keeping them filled. Sometimes those filled feeders bring unusual birds such as fox sparrows. Sometimes they bring birds that even the experts can’t identify.

At this time of year, when the southbound migration is finished, the hawk watches have closed and the lakes and ponds are frozen, watching the birds at the feeders is as good as it gets. The birds come to you – no slogging through muddy fields swatting away mosquitoes or shivering in snow-covered boots. At my kitchen window the visibility is pretty good and the crowd is down to me, myself and I, with an occasional visit from MH.

The same is true at Scherman Hoffman, where you can stand in the store, warm up from parking outside and watch the birds at the feeders through the window while you are putting in your order for the sunflower seed and suet you’ll need for your own feeders. Scherman Hoffman is where I get my seed, in 50-pound bags if possible, which I think provide more bang for the buck. I also stock up on blocks of plain suet for the downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers that like rendered fat.dee

Even if you’re not going for 50 pounds, Scherman Hoffman, like the other NJ Audubon centers, makes it very easy to stock up on what the birds need. Members even get a discount on sunflower seed during the first weekend of each month.

Birds have a hard enough life during the summer when food is plentiful -- dodging predators and the changes to their habitat and environment created by the ignorance, malice or plain old stupidity of mankind.

Add intense cold and a thick blanket of snow and a bird’s life becomes that much harder. When I watch a chickadee in one of my bushes puff itself up to keep warm or fly from branch to branch in the trees looking for what it can dislodge from a crevice, I am glad to have a feeder of sunflower seeds to help keep it going into the breeding season, where it will find a mate and make more chickadees.

Do your part. Feed the birds.

Birdseed Days

If you’re going to put a bird feeder outside now that winter is officially here, you have to keep it filled with seed.

That would seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people put out a feeder and then don’t bother to refill it when it is empty.

Many put feeders way up in a tree, requiring a ladder to reach it, and then don’t want to bother when it is cold or after it has snowed. Many lose interest or get too busy or don’t think it’s important.

Believe me, it is very important to the birds. 

Luckily, most people who keep a feeder keep it filled. But are they careful about what they fill it with?

I admit to buying cheap birdseed when I first started keeping a feeder. I bought millet - oh, the shame - and wondered why I was drawing a lot of sparrows when I wanted chickadees and cardinals.

Somewhere along the line I read that if you want the greatest variety of birds - the most bang for your buck, if you will - buy black-oil sunflower seed because it provides the fat content a bird needs when it gets cold and regular food sources are gone.

Even then, when I would get sunflower seed I would go somewhere I could get a large bag cheap.

One Saturday I drove over to Scherman Hoffman to do some birding and found a lot of cars parked in the upper lot (the ONLY lot, which shows how long ago that was) getting bags of seed brought to their cars. When I finally got a parking space I discovered one of those cars belonged to one of my friends who, being a NJ Audubon member, always got her seed there during the “Field to Fundraiser” birdseed sale days.

It’s easy to see why this particular seed would be so popular. You can buy 10-, 20- or 50-lb bags of it. It is grown in New Jersey, by New Jersey farmers. Unlike the stuff I’d been getting, it was fresher and bagged in recyclable paper rather than plastic. chickadee1

Buying bags of sunflower seed - nyjer, cracked corn and varieties of suet are also for sale - through NJ Audubon’s Supports Agricultural Viability and the Environment (SAVE) program raises money for NJ Audubon and helps keep local farmers in business while growing some crops that also support birdlife. You can read more about the program here.

Since I am one of those who tries to get my family local, healthier food when I can, it seemed like a good idea to feed the birds the same way and do some greater good. 

The seed is sold at all the NJ Audubon centers and some retailers. You don’t have to wait for the next sale to get the seed - I frequently tax the patience and strength of the Scherman Hoffman staff (even director Mike Anderson!) going in for 50-lb. bags at odd times when I suddenly realize I have less seed than I thought.

You even get a discount if you belong to NJ Audubon. Even better, the birds love the seed and come back for more, like this chickadee above..

Seems like a win-win all around. 

Margo D. Beller

S.A.V.E. brand Jersey-Grown Black Oil Sunflower Seed and Jersey-Grown Wood bluebird boxes and hopper feeders are available at NJ Audubon Nature Stores and selected independent retailers. Click the link above for more information.